My favorite paper ever

My favorite paper of all the things I’ve ever written was a research paper entitled “Desirous to See the Strange Things of the World”: The Curious Voyage of M. Hore. I was taking a colloquium at the time as part of my master’s degree in Museum Studies, and the goal of the class was to produce an article of publishable quality. I had hoped to submit my paper to a major history journal, but as luck would have it, another scholar beat me to publication literally within a month with a very similar approach to the subject. Such is the academic life. For a while I toyed with trying to publish my paper as an issue of the Compleat Anachronist, but a lot of time has passed and I might just let it go.

My paper explored the 1536 voyage of Richard Hore to Newfoundland, which was a fascinating story both for the myth – cannibalism, shipwreck, piracy – and the actuality: Admiralty court intrigue, nationalistic propaganda, and 16th century concepts of “civilized” behavior. I had a lot of fun untangling conflicting narratives and getting *really* obscure sources to dig out the truth. I’m still not sure I got at the “real” truth, or at least the whole entire story, but I was able to interpret both the truths and lies in their motivational contexts. It was a nifty paper to write.

In a nutshell: The original narrative is in Hakluyt’s Principal Navigations, Voyages, Traffiques and Discoveries of the English Nation in 1600. A summary of the original events can be found here, but I can sum it up like this. In 1536, English gentleman Richard (or Robert, depending on the source) Hore and 30 of his closest friends decided to sail on a sightseeing voyage to the New World. They traveled in two ships, one of which was probably engaging in a standard fishing voyage. Hore & his buddies went cruising up the coast until their ship started leaking and they ran out of food. They then started sneaking off into the bushes to kill and eat each other, and finally got to the point of drawing lots as a group to see who would go into the pot. In classic deus ex machina form, at the exact moment when the victim was about to be killed, a French ship showed up over the horizon. Hore & Co rejoiced and captured it, sailing back to England and leaving the French on the same bleak and barren coast. When they returned, King Henry bestowed all sorts of rewards on them as compensation for their sufferings. At least, this is what happened if you believe the story at face value.

A page from one of the court records pertaining to Richard Hore's voyage, courtesy of the United Kingdom National Archives.

A page from one of the court records pertaining to Richard Hore’s voyage, courtesy of the United Kingdom National Archives.

In actuality, Hakluyt was only able to interview two men for this record, both of whom were elderly civil servants who had never made much of themselves afterwards. The Admiralty court records show that the area was hardly abandoned – Spanish, English, and Basque fishermen were carousing in impromptu ports all over the Newfoundland and Labrador coasts. The French ship that Hore’s company so merrily pirated never existed. No crew roster exists, but it’s likely the cannibalism never happened either. Why make these things up? (That answer falls outside of this nutshell version – you’ll have to read the paper.)

One of the highlights of writing this one was the fact I got to send away to England for the Admiralty Court Records for this incident, which consisted mainly of the shipwrights’ testimony as to the soundness of the vessels and the pilot being sued for being Basque (pretty much; a lawsuit was filed against him for alleged dereliction of duty, including being too friendly with his countrymen ashore among the New World fishing fleets).

I got back pages of manuscript in Tudor secretary’s hand, which was awful to read. I ended up inviting Master Harold & Mistress Aine over for dinner in exchange for helping me transcribe it all. I’d never used such “raw history” before. I was literally the first person to use these records in decades; centuries in some cases. It’s a heady thought.

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